My Heavenly Encounter With 'Touched by an Angel' Star John Dye, Dead at 47

Filed under: Opinions, Celeb News & Interviews

John dye picture

John Dye died of an apparent heart attack last week. Credit: Everett Collection

He was most widely known for his role as Andrew, the kind and compassionate Angel of Death, to the millions who tuned into the CBS series "Touched by an Angel " each week for nine seasons.

But, off screen, John Dye was a down-to-earth guy and friend to many with a passion for helping others. When news broke that he died last week at the age of 47 in his San Francisco home of an apparent heart attack, friends and fans began flooding his website with powerful tributes to the actor who celebrated love and life.

Actress Valerie Bertinelli, who co-starred with Dye on the CBS show, tweeted, "Dear, sweet John Dye, rest in peace." And Kathy Ireland, another former co-star, tweeted, "My friend, John Dye, of Touched by an Angel passed. I loved John. His smile, kindness, gentle heart & talent. Heartbreaking. Goodbye Angel."

Because TV actors enter our living rooms, viewers sometimes feel a real closeness and familiarity with the stars. Maybe it was because this archangel dude would walk in all aglow, decked out in a white suit, delivering a divine message of hope to mortals in crisis, or, possibly, just because he was a hunk, but I found myself especially riveted to Dye and the show.

Every Sunday night, I'd plop myself on my couch, Kleenex box by my side, and end up bawling my head off. At the time, my family was facing divorce, and, every other weekend, my three young kids who -- all day, every other day were like my barnacles -- were ripped away from me. I was a troubled soul.

I'd be pacing, waiting for them to be delivered back home. But Andrew, the gentle face of loss and letting go, calmed me down, inspiring comfort and, for one hour, once a week, offered me heavenly guidance (a la Hollywood) and a good cry.

Call it providence. Or divine intervention. But during the throes of my self-inflicted "Year of the Pity Party," I found myself in San Francisco one Valentine's Day. My sister was throwing a bash at her place in the city, and, mid-fleet of Chardonnays, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and there was Dye, in the flesh. At the time, I didn't even know the guy's real name.

Turns out, my sister, Sheila, who has this phenomenal network of associates, had become friends with Dye, and, in the crazy business of both our lives, forgot to send me an Excel spread sheet with her guest list.

In the years that followed, my sister would share her friendship with this real-life angel, a guy who traded in Hollywood for a more modest existence in Northern California. In actions, not words, he passionately dedicated himself to helping others by working closely with Sister Joanne DeVincenti at St. Mary's Medical Center Foundation.

He also worked on the frontline with AIDS patients and children with chronic illnesses through the Make A Wish Foundation. For a time, he became a friend to my son, who was riding some troubled teenage waters and needed a gentle tap on his shoulder, and an embrace from someone who cared.

John Dye was that guy. On several visits to San Francisco, and when my son moved there for a brief period, Dye was a host, orchestrating dinner outings, chauffeuring him one night around the city in his new sports car, and welcoming him into a circle of friends. At a time when Mom's care seemed bogus, the mentoring from a TV star/cool guy who's been there was heavenly intervention.

"People were very moved by the nature of John's role, and it was not uncommon for people to come up to him in public and say their mother or brother passed away, and you were a comfort," Dye's brother Jerre tells the Memphis Commercial Appeal. "So often, he would get some very powerful comments, so he had to learn to embrace all that."

These days, my son, Thomas, has become the rescuer at bedsides, studying to be a paramedic and fireman and working in the ER. One never knows what inspires others into action. But, as a mom, I'd like to believe it is not simply a fairy tale when a random person steps into the lives of our kids, they feel the brush of that person's compassion and good things start to happen. I want to believe that someday our offspring, too, will reach back to help others who need them.

"I can't tell you how many letters I get that say, 'When it's time, I hope somebody like Andrew comes for me.' And that has a lot to do with John. He changed lives," Dye's "Touched by an Angel" costar Roma Downey told People several years ago.

Fans say they will remember Dye as the guy who entered their living rooms with a dose of hope injected with Hollywood hype. My sister says she will remember him as the guy who made her laugh and play like a kid again. I will cherish the compassionate and caring soul who brought light into a scary place and, for a brief brush with fame and fate, made my son and me rock stars.

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